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DC to Paris: Don’t Count on Uncle Sugar for the Mali Bill

France is angry that Uncle Sugar won’t pick up the Mali bill. After decades of defense cuts and penny pinching, the French cannot support their North Africa ambitions without a lot of help from the US. But the US isn’t willing to sign on automatically to fund whatever campaign France has in mind. The WSJ:

The U.S. is providing “invaluable” intelligence-gathering help for the Mali campaign, the French officials said. But the U.S. has yet to decide on whether to agree to France’s request for U.S. planes to refuel French fighters in flight, they said. France has a small fleet of aging refueling tankers and says more are needed to maintain the tempo of air operations in remote Mali.

France also has asked the U.S. to send additional manned and unmanned surveillance planes to spy on rebel communications, but the White House so far hasn’t responded to that request either.[…]

The French officials said they were particularly “perplexed” last week when the U.S. agreed to provide limited airlift assistance but insisted on getting reimbursed for the costs.

Since then, the Pentagon has clarified that the United States won’t charge for the airlift, but this is an important moment for NATO. For well over a decade the US has been warning its European partners that their defense plans were irresponsible, dangerous, and a threat to the Atlantic alliance. These warnings were treated with contempt and disdain by Europe’s political leaders (though many military officers quietly agreed). The North Africa mess is indeed a threat to our common security, but the Obama administration is right to use this teachable moment to remind the Europeans that if you think military action might someday be necessary, you have to pay some bills.

We live in a very dangerous world. Europe does not inhabit a post historical zone of tranquility. Europe must spend more on defense; there is no way around this inconvenient truth. As long as Europe fails to provide for its own defense, its dependency on the US will prove chafing and limiting at times like this.

And speaking of inconvenient truths, the Obama administration appears set on serious defense cuts even as the call on US forces is growing from North Africa to East Asia. There is some fat that needs to be trimmed after the hasty buildup since 9/11, some weapons systems that need to be reviewed, and some congressional pork that needs to be cut, but looking at the state of the world today it seems less likely than ever that big defense cuts are wise or can long be sustained.

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